The Great Resignation: coming to terms with career change

Are you thinking of changing career? You’re by no means alone: almost half of UK workers are considering it, in a movement termed 'The Great Resignation’. We take a closer look at how to come to terms with change in your career...


the great resignation uk

If you are one of the millions of people who have switched jobs, been made redundant or even walked away from work as you knew it in the past year, you may be battling challenging emotions. Jenny Stallard discovers ways to help you come to terms with change during what’s been dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’ in the UK…

What is The Great Resignation UK?

The Great Resignation is the term that’s been given to the current ongoing trend of UK workers who are voluntarily leaving their jobs and changing careers. According to a survey by Microsoft,  almost half of UK workers are considering leaving their job or completely changing their career path.

The trend emerged around spring 2021, following the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, people appear to be more protective over their time, and want to ensure they are spending their time doing something that brings them joy and fulfillment.

Should I quit my job?

It’s the stuff many of us dream about after a bad day at work: your boss has handed you yet another report that you’re sure they should be producing, or taken credit for your work for the hundredth time.

Next, you picture yourself standing up and declaring – so the whole office can hear – ‘I quit!’, before striding purposefully out of the office (think Rachel from Friends) with a box of personal items, and always a pot plant.

However, the Hollywood fantasy can be far removed from most of our actual experiences, and the reality, which many UK workers are facing during The Great Resignation, can leave us floundering.

Whether you have left a job with a flourish, declaring you are off to bigger and better things or to go it alone in self-employment, or you’re facing redundancy or post-furlough changes, leaving a job is rarely an open-and-shut case.

the great resignation uk

Why do I feel guilty for resigning?

As the dust begins to settle once you clock off for the last time – like many other UK workers during the current ‘Great Resignation’ – there will probably be a raft of unexpected feelings and, surprisingly, they all come under the umbrella of grief.

It’s a scenario I’ve experienced many times over the past year. After a career as a writer, I decided to retrain as a coach, and became so involved in the idea of my new career that the old one felt almost toxic, with the idea of leaving it behind making me feel euphoric. But, as you may have noticed, here I am, still working as a writer… and happily so.

Spoiler alert: what I actually needed to do was let go of parts of the ‘old me’ that weren’t working any more, and blend them with the ‘new me’ I was creating. And to do that, I had to allow myself to grieve.

Why you need to grieve your old job

The coach and author Eleanor Tweddell says a career change is similar to a break-up. ‘You go through exactly the same feelings. You’re grieving your old self, and you have to say goodbye really well to create space for the new you. If you don’t do that,’ says Tweddell, ‘then you’re constantly fighting with the old you.’

With my career reboot, I chose to retrain, but there have been many times in my career when the same feelings of grieving have come: due to redundancy or quitting because I didn’t like a job, or leaving for a new, shinier role. However you’ve said or plan to say goodbye to the old work you, here’s how to navigate those moments of grief – and to grow into the new you, gradually and happily.

Making the decision to change career

Oh, the times I’ve been in this position! That feeling of triumph and nervous excitement as you travel to work knowing you’re going to hand in your notice… So why, after the act, is there a feeling of guilt?

The relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam says: ‘Resignation feels like you’re holding the winning cards – you have a new role to go to, a big plan, and you are declaring that you’re “off to bigger and better pastures new”.

‘It happens in relationships too, but there’s a stronger tipping point with a resignation. And when you come to the point of grieving, in comes the feeling of guilt. You wonder, “Did I make the right decision?”, then ask yourself, “How on earth could I feel like this?”. After all, it was you who chose to resign. And then there’s the shame of having effectively told your employer to “stick it”.’

This is where saying goodbye is really important – a leaving do and saying what you need to say to colleagues, even if that means difficult conversations, and acknowledging that you may miss the old role. Be prepared for the surprise of wondering if you did the right thing.

the great resignation uk

Say a proper goodbye to colleagues – and the ‘old you’

For Tweddell, the key message when changing careers is about taking ownership – however things have ended at your old job. There will always be something that crops up to remind you of your old role, but how you choose to deal with that is completely within your control.

‘Saying goodbye in a positive way is part of it. Write a heartfelt and meaningful letter to your old self or your previous company, saying things such as “I really enjoyed our time together” and give thanks for all the experiences the role gave you. If you present yourself with that narrative then, actually, any memories that pop up will be happy ones, and you can move on.’

Comparing careers: wanting the best of both

This sense of conflict is a tricky customer – you want the new role and are excited about it but, just as when we move to a new house, the decision to leave doesn’t come grief-free. Unlike storming out of a job or resigning with a flourish, leaving a job you like for another job you think you’ll prefer can make the grieving even harder.

We are living through a time when we are all rethinking areas of our lives, and some of that rethinking will involve letting go – something many UK workers are experiencing during The Great Resignation.

But just because you let something go, doesn’t mean you don’t want to keep hold of elements of it. You might come around to thinking: ‘I’ve let go of this, but I find that I want to reclaim some of its parts.’ I did!

Feeling the rage of career grief

If you’re leaving a role because of feelings of being thwarted in your career progression, difficult relationships with colleagues or other reasons of dissatisfaction, you might have feelings of anger that things did not work out the way you wanted them to in your job.

Shahroo Izadi is a behavioural change specialist and reaffirms that it is natural to have moments of fear, ambivalence or anger, even when it’s your choice to move on, and it can work much like the traditional phases of grief.

‘It can be helpful to keep a list on your phone of your reasons for leaving, which you can glance at in moments of low motivation, regret or euphoric recall (a psychological term for the tendency of people to remember past experiences in a positive light, while overlooking negative experiences),’ Izadi says.

Reminisce about your old role

Remember, there’s no shame in looking back, adds Quilliam: ‘Most roles include happy moments, which are often linked to the people with whom you worked. You may miss colleagues, the fun and the lunches. But when you don’t miss the job itself, it can cause conflict.

‘That’s why it’s vital to do all you have to do before you leave, even if it’s through gritted teeth,’ says Quilliam. ‘Making peace with people is important too.’

In the same way that you might go for a final drink at the end of an amicably ended relationship, this will help give you closure, so you are ready for a new chapter.

How to come to terms with a career change during The Great Resignation UK:

1. Remove reminders of the previous career

I used to have lots of magazines with my published articles on the shelves next to my desk. I packed them away into a box and then a cupboard, because I knew I needed the physical representation of my old career to be out of sight.

But Quilliam advises against throwing out items too soon as you may want to look back or revisit the career, further down the line.

2. Make a list of what you need to move forward

‘Even if it’s difficult to spend time thinking about negative experiences, write down the things on which you want to achieve closure,’ says Quilliam.

‘If you want to talk to a boss before you go to express a grievance, think calmly and sensibly about what you need to say. Commit to paper the emotional journey of your time with the company – things you’ve learned, what’s worked for you since you joined, and the way you feel now.’

3. Take time out

A spa break can be a good idea. Something that is just for you and creates separation between the old and the new. Treat yourself, and take time to process your feelings.

Further reading on The Great Resignation:

Read: How To Fail by Elizabeth Day (HarperCollins, £9.99). This book charts Day’s life story along the theme that we all fail, which makes us who we are and are supposed to be in life. It is also a popular podcast of the same name in which Day interviews guests about their failures in life.

Listen: The Squiggly Careers podcast covers everything from ego at work to rediscovering your inspiration. There’s plenty to help you through and bring on a few smiles.

Visit: Audrey Online and the Audrey Restart Club is a site and community from the former magazine editor Marina Gask-Ajani. It’s packed with inspiring interviews and resources for women going through life changes.

More inspiration: No ambition – is it really a bad thing?

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